Arsenal will host Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday in a clash of different styles of play.
Arsenal is coming off a 2-2 draw Wednesday against surging Liverpool in which they came back from a two-goal deficit to earn an important point. The Gunners have played relatively well since the end of last year and while they currently sit 6th in the table, the top four is just four points away. As the latter part of the season roles around, every point matters, and with a place in the Champions League within reach for Arsenal, every match now becomes vital. With the loss of Robin van Persie to Manchester United, it is quite remarkable how well Arsenal has done thus far, but consistency throughout the whole season is the key.
On the other side, the visiting Potters sit 10th in the table and come into Saturday’s match with one of the best goals against record in the league. The likes of Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth in the central defense have helped Stoke allow just 29 goals against this season and stand as a physical presence unlike most in the English Premier League. Unfortunately, The Potters have managed just 24 goals, which has contributed to them not being higher in the table and competing for a top spot. Injuries have played their part for Stoke, but with a well coached, defensively based system, they have managed to stay consistent.
Saturday’s match will also be a spectacle of contrasting styles of play. Arsenal is known for their possession-based style of play with Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere controlling the flow of play through the midfield. They like to attack with Theo Walcott and their fullbacks, and try to play it from the back with simple passing. Stoke City on the other hand, are a big, strong, direct team who like to win the ball from defense and get forward quickly. With big forwards like Kenwyne Jones, Cameron Jerome, and Peter Crouch, the team can play direct to the front and make runs accordingly. The difference in style of play is drastic and may be the biggest juxtaposition possible when putting two Premier League teams together.
Saturday will be a very interesting match so let’s take a look at some of the key battles to watch for:
Peter Crouch vs. Per Mertesacker
Stoke City’s biggest player versus Arsenal’s biggest player. Forward versus defender. The matchup between these two giants will be very important to the outcome of the match because of the way Stoke City plays. Peter Crouch usually towers over opposing defenders and is able to not only win the aerial battles, but also hold up the ball with ease. Crouch isn’t the fastest of players, but his size and skill make up for it. Saturday however, Crouch will be facing a player of his stature in Per Mertesacker and should have more trouble winning balls in the air off corners, goal kicks, and free kicks, which is usually a huge advantage for Stoke. Watch for these two to be matched up throughout the match and for Arsenal to benefit from Mertesackers height.
Jack Wilshire vs. Charlie Adam
The center midfield role is arguably the most important on the field, and Jack Wilshere, since his return from injury, has helped Arsenal find their identity. Santi Cazorla, who also plays in the central midfield, is a tactical, skill-based player who likes to control the flow of the match, much like Juan Mata for Chelsea. With Wilshere out of the lineup for most of the season however, Cazorla was not as free to play the way he wanted. Now that Wilshere is back and brings grit to compliment Cazorla’s style, the midfield has been working much better. On Saturday, Wilshere will face another tough customer in Stoke’s Charlie Adam. Adam is a strong, tough, left-footed player with all the abilities of Wilshere plus an advantage in size. There is no doubt that these two will be involved in some tussles as both play hard every match. Watch for these two players to liven up and bring toughness to the match.
Ryan Shawcross vs. Theo Walcott
Two contrasting styles of play of Arsenal and Stoke City are personified in the form of Theo Walcott and Ryan Shawcross. Walcott is a small, crafty, speedy player while Shawcross is a big, strong, physical player. Walcott likes to dribble, make darting runs, and get in behind the defense, while Shawcross likes to win tackles, headers, and make opposing players feel his presence. Both players have an advantage against each other in different ways and will be fascinating to watch them go at each other and affect the match in their own style.